How to spend your summer not-vacation

There’s a different rhythm to summer at the medical school. Yes, this involves some vacation time, but it also involves getting many things done that get set aside during the university academic year.

For those involved in classroom-based teaching, the summer interval is an opportunity to review, reflect and revise teaching for the upcoming semesters. With this in mind, here’s my suggestion for tackling this task this summer:

A 4-R To-Do List for Summer 2019

1. Review

What you review will depend on your role in the UGME program. If you’re a course director, for example, re-read your course evaluation report, your own teaching evaluation report, and any notes you may have made through the year about how things went. Did the student curricular reps have any feedback for you during your course? Re-read these emails. Have a look to see if any of the MCC presentations assigned to your course may have changed (we update our list as the Council updates its presentations).

If you’re an instructor in a course, read through your notes on your learning events and your instructor evaluation report. Read through your teaching materials and your learning event pages on Elentra (our LMS, formerly called MEdTech).

Did you set aside any journal articles relevant to your field with a sticky-note saying “save for next year”? Now is the time to pull that out!

2. Reflect

Once you’ve reviewed relevant materials, think about your teaching. Did things go the way you wanted them to? Are there aspects of the past year that you’re really proud of and want to retain? Are there things that didn’t go as smoothly that you’d like to address next time? Are there things that went quite well, but you’d like to shake things up or experiment with something new? For anything that’s changed in your field, how might this impact your planning and teaching?

3. Revise

Decide what you’d like to change or address in next year’s teaching. Think about what’s manageable within the scope of your course or other responsibilities. Maybe you’ve seen some of the e-modules used in other courses and think one would fit with yours and make your teaching more effective. Maybe you’d like to enhance your existing cases to incorporate other curricular objectives assigned to your course. Maybe things are going pretty well, but you’d just like to shift things around a bit. Call me! I can help brainstorm and talk about timelines to set your plan in motion.

4. Relax

Many of us in medical education – and academia in general – have a lengthy summer to-do list that involves not only preparation for the next teaching cycle, but catching up on many other things, too. Sometimes that summer list can become overwhelming, so remember to take some time to relax and disconnect a bit from the “med ed” side of you: take some strolls along the lake, eat a popsicle or an ice cream cone. Do quintessential summer things that have nothing to do with any to-do list.

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On a gumdrop cake fail and multiple points of assessment

What can a failed gumdrop cake remind us about assessment?

I’m a pretty good baker and love to indulge myself when there’s time, like last month’s holiday season. For me, baking is partly about eating (of course!) but also about tradition, hospitality, and comfort.

Just before Christmas, I set out to make a gumdrop cake. It was an unmitigated disaster. When I turned it out of the pan, it collapsed. (See embarrassing photo at right).

Based on that single point of baking, a casual observer could determine that I’m a lousy baker. In fact, I should be barred from the kitchen and given directions to the closest bakery for all subsequent treats. This wouldn’t be a fair representation of my skills, just a snapshot of a single – bad! – evening.

It’s the same for our system of assessment in the UG program: no single assessment determines a student’s progress. We use multiple points of assessment, both in preclerkship classes and through clerkship rotations, to ensure we have an accurate portrait of a student’s performance over time. Admittedly, some assessments are higher stakes than others, but no single assessment will determine a student’s fate in the program.

Anyone can have an “off” day – for any number of reasons. What’s important following poor performance, is to take stock of what happened, reflect on what may have contributed to the poor outcome, and make a plan for next time.

I was really upset. I’d made this many times. I was “good” at this. Had I somehow lost my baking mojo? Plus, I was embarrassed — as well as annoyed with myself for wasting all kinds of butter, sugar, eggs, flour and gumdrops!

My adult daughter gamely offered this advice: “Sometimes a new recipe takes a few times to get right.” Except it wasn’t a new recipe. I’ve made this gumdrop cake dozens of times for over two decades. What could possibly have gone wrong? I reread the recipe (photocopied from my mother’s handwritten book) and my scrawled notes in the margins. I’d used mini-gummy-bears in place of the “baking gums”. In trying to be cute and expedient (didn’t have to chop those up!), I’d sabotaged my own cake. I’d also forgotten to put the pan of water on the bottom rack, but I thought that was likely pretty minor.

For students after a poor assessment, that same reflection can help: did I study or practice enough? Was it efficient study/practice? Was I under the weather? Did I have enough sleep? These self-reflection questions will vary based on the type of assessment, but it boils down to this: What can I learn from this assessment experience and what can I do differently next time?

I waited over a week before I attempted the gumdrop cake again. In the meantime, I (successfully) made four kinds of cookies, a triple-ginger pound cake, and a slew of banana breads. Then, I bought the right kind of baking gumdrops and remembered to follow ALL the instructions, and it turned out just fine. In fact, I sent some to my parents in New Brunswick and my mother judged it “delicious”.


With thanks to Eleni Katsoulas, Assessment & Evaluation Consultant, for her continued counsel on assessment practices.

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Year in Review? Why wait until then?

When I worked as a journalist (about a million years ago), an annual task was writing “Year in Review” articles. These were summary or “round up” stories with the highlights of the previous year.

The stated intent was historical record, reminders and reminiscing; marking highs and lows, significant events and momentous occasions. On a more practical level, these stories could be compiled fairly easily, mostly in advance, and take up copious column inches in our weekly paper in the week between Christmas and New Year’s when nobody was reading anyway and the editorial staff wanted to take extra time off from covering newer news. Closely tied to these were “Resolutions You Should Make Now!” advice columns.

With this cultural backdrop assigning retrospection to the turn of the year, it’s easy to become cynical about such things—and reduce thoughtful review to top-ten lists and cliché-ridden commentary. For educators, however, the importance of review should not be treated so lightly. Review and reflection are important. We expect our learners to do it. Educators should give it just as much attention.

Review and reflection are integral to effective teaching practice. January is a great time for this, but so is June, or September, or some other month. Right now, for some, a semester has recently ended, for others, it’s just beginning. There are benefits to both retroactive and proactive review – and in doing it more frequently than an annual check-mark on a to-do list.

So, instead of a ‘year in review’ summary, or even a list of new year’s resolutions for medical education, here’s a sample framework for incorporating review into your teaching practice. (Use it annually, or more often, as needed).

Theresa’s Five Step Review and Revise Process

Step 1: Review & Reflect

Whether you’re considering a whole course, a few teaching sessions, or a single seminar or other learning event the process is the same. Consider:

  • What happened? What worked? What didn’t? (If you’re forecasting: What could be some pitfalls? What am I worried about?)
  • For anything that didn’t go well, or didn’t accomplish what I planned: How can I fix it? (Forecasting: Do I have a back-up plan? Do I need one?)
  • What’s a manageable change? Do I have the knowledge, skills and ability to do this? Where can I get support and/or resources? (Forecasting: Do I have the resources I need? What kind of feedback could be helpful to me on my teaching sessions?)

 Step 2: Reconsider7916463

Once you’ve reflected on what’s happened, or what you have planned, consider:

  • Did I meet my objectives (or will my plan meet my objectives)?
  • Are there things I did (or I’m planning) that are just out of habit?
  • What should I change to make my course/session/seminar more engaging/relevant/appropriate?

 Step 3: Find Resources

When you revise your teaching plans, you may also need additional resources. This could be in the form of your own skills, materials, input from colleagues. Consider:

  • What support do I need to get to where I’d like to be?
  • Do I have the abilities to do what I plan? If not, how could I acquire the necessary skills?
  • Are there existing materials that could help me? Do I need to develop new materials? Who could help with that?
  • Who could I call on for support or assistance?
  • What sort of time frame do I have?

 Step 4: Refine your plan

Evauluation ChecklistSometimes, what we’d like to do just isn’t in the cards this year—there can be a lot of constraints on our teaching in time, materials, scheduling. It’s important to refine revisions into things that are manageable and realistic. Sometimes you are in a position to make large-scale changes to how you deliver your learning events, other times, not. Avoid the “all-or-nothing” plan: Incremental changes are better than no changes. It’s better to be good, than to be perfect. Consider:

  • How realistic is my plan?
  • Are there things I consider “must haves” and things that are “nice to haves”?
  • If I could only make one change in my teaching right now, what would it be?

 Step 5: Reflect & Review

At the end (or the beginning) – take another look. Good teaching really is an iterative process with the cycle of review, revision, redeliver.

Sometimes the best way to review and reflect (and plan) is to talk it out with a colleague. Bouncing around ideas can bring new perspectives and inspire you and others to add to your teaching toolbox. If you’d like to chat about your teaching any time, get in touch with the Education Team.

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